WOMEN’S RACES MAY BE THE MOST COMPETITIVE YET AS WORLD-LEADING TRAIL RUNNERS TAKE ON TARAWERA ULTRA MARATHON

Both the women’s 100-Miler and the 102km races will be stacked with elite international athletes complemented by a sprinkling of local stars hoping to mix it with the best in the world at this weekend’s Tarawera Ultra Marathon event in Rotorua.

Race Director Tim Day says race day is going to be something else, with the quality of the elite women’s races reflecting the amazing growth in the event overall, with an increase of over 50% in total participation from 2019.

“The Tarawera Ultra Marathon is an event designed to cater for people from all walks of life and all abilities. Some of the more amazing stories can be found amongst those taking a little longer to get to the finish line for sure, but it is wonderful that the front of the race is also growing and gaining in reputation amongst the trail-running elite around the world.

“In previous years we may have hung our hat on one or two stars and put a few eggs in that one basket, but the interest from the elite trail running community is growing to the extent that nominating runners for a podium finish is tough, let alone identifying a winner.

“We are delighted to see that growth and increase in depth at the front of the field and expect some wonderful racing across the weekend from a number of world class athletes. It is wonderful that all of our athletes can share the wonderful trails of the region with some of the very best in the world.”

In an endurance event such as the Tarawera Ultra-Marathon however, nothing can be taken for granted, with athletes having to manage hours on their feet in sometimes changing and challenging conditions as they manage the lack of sleep, balance their nutrition and hydration, and maintain their own race pace in relation to other contenders.

Adding to the excitement is the fact both the 102km and 100-Miler events see runners vie for qualifying spots at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, adding yet another layer of intrigue to an already fascinating race.

Women’s 102km Preview
The women’s 102km race is shaping as one of the great races in the 12-year history of the Tarawera, with any number of leading candidates from the world of trail running including a few locals vying for spots on the podium.

Leading the way is Francesca Canepa who is looking to add yet another victory to an already impressive CV that has seen the Italian pick up 16 race wins in her eight years of racing. The 48-year-old honed her strength and endurance with many years as an international snowboarder before turning to the trails at age 40, with immediate and impressive success.

Canepa is always looking to go faster and run stronger and will bring that holistic approach to the Tarawera Ultra, rather than focus on a singular result.

“For sure it’s an opportunity for me to relentlessly improve. I like to challenge myself, especially my mind, I like to feel stronger as a person after I accomplish something I didn’t believe was possible for me. When you run in nature you never know what it throws up to you, so you have to stay humble and manage everything you can. It’s awesome!

“What an opportunity from Ultra Trail World Tour to come to New Zealand, it’s amazing to be invited here! This is my first visit and what fascinates me the most is the gorgeous nature you have there. I’ve seen many pictures showing lots of water, that I love so much, so I can’t wait to be there and swim or simply watch everything.”

Amongst the many challengers will be Nicole Bitter (USA), it is not the first visit for the American having honeymooned here previously, but this time the candlelit dinners will take second place to competing (husband Zach is amongst the favourites in the men’s race). A 7th place at the Western States last year, in her fastest time at that event, shows she is very much yet to reach her peak in trail running.

New Zealander Fiona Hayvice will be mixing it at the front of the field, her impressive 5th place finish on debut over the distance at the Western States 100-Miler in 2017 put everyone on notice and she has continued to place well in strong international company around the world.

Lucy Bartholomew (Australia) is an ultra-running phenomenon, winning eight races in 2017 alone. The Aussie started in the sport as a teenager, when acting as a support runner for her father, but has since gone on to establish herself as one of the stars of the sport and is familiar to New Zealanders, winning the Ultra-Marathon at Macpac Motatapu in race record time in 2017.

The 102km course is an official round of the Ultra-Trail® World Tour and takes runners from Firmin Field in Kawarau to the finish line at the Lakefront in Rotorua, taking runners on a combination of trails and forestry roads with native bush, conifer forest, farmland, parkland and thermal landscapes.

An expected time for the first 102km women’s finisher (estimate only) is pm 3:15pm on Saturday afternoon, with the final finisher expected over the line at 1pm on Sunday. Runners are encouraged to have supporters, family and friends run with them over the closing stages from the Redwood Forest, supporting runners can do this free of charge.

Tarawera Ultra Marathon, Leading Contenders, Women’s 102km race
• Francesca Canepa, ITA: The likely race favourite in a very even and high-quality top end of the field. Francesca is a former snowboarder turned trail and sky runner with stunning results featuring 16 race wins in eight years of competing. Won Oman UTMB race in 2019.
• Lucy Bartholomew, AUS: Lucy is familiar to New Zealanders, having raced here extensively including winning and setting a new course record at the Macpac Motatapu Ultra-Run. Has been ultra-running since the age of 15 and had eight wins in 2017, including victory at the Ultra-Trail Australia 100km event.
• Nicole Bitter, USA: Nicole is the running attorney who has run ultras all over the world and has many wins to her name including Black Canyon 100-km and Rocky Racoon 100-Mile in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Western States 100 mile 6th in 2015 and 2017; 7th 2019
• Fiona Hayvice, NZL: Can lay claim to being New Zealand’s leading contender here, a previous winner of the 100km race at Tarawera (2016) and posted a hugely impressive 5th place at the 2017 Western States 100-Mile race.
• Manuela Soccol, Belgium: Difficult to gauge the threat on the back of just one trail race – the fact she won in a new course record in Turkey over 60km has her on the ‘must watch’ list here. But the extra distance will be a challenging step up for the former Belgian Olympic track athlete.

Plus
• Gwendolyn Ostrosky, USA
• Anna Mae Flynn, USA
• Veronika Limberger, AUT
• Ailsa MacDonald, CAN
• Anne Marie Madden, USA
• Michaela McDonald, AUS
• Mel Aitken, NZL
• Sarah Ludowici, AUS
For full 102km course information and map, click here

Women’s 100-Miler Preview
Cat Bradley will start as the favourite in the 100-Miler with the American announcing herself on the world stage with a stunning win at the prestigious Western States 100-Miler in 2017.

An 800m track runner at College, Bradley has backed up that win with a host of impressive performances and race records and can’t wait to experience all that New Zealand has to offer – in and around her racing commitments of course!

“There is nothing more inspiring than challenging yourself in beautiful places with likeminded people. Trail running is the gift of all three of those things,” said Bradley ahead of a first visit to New Zealand that has her buzzing about the race and the course profile.

“I am excited to race in one of the most beautiful and unique climates in the world among some of the best, most elite athletes in the world.”

The 100-Miler course starts at Te Puia in the early hours of Saturday morning, taking runners on a one loop journey through a combination of trails, forestry roads and some sealed road through native bush, conifer forest, farmland, parkland and thermal landscapes and again includes a section through the Buried Village – with tea and scones on offer at the aid station!

An estimated time for the first 100-Miler finisher is 7:00pm on Saturday evening, with the final finisher due home at 4pm on Sunday afternoon. Winner projected times are completely subjective and estimates only.

Tarawera Ultra-Marathon, Leading Contenders, Women’s 100-Miler
• Cat Bradley, USA: The Boulder, Colorado athlete shot to fame with her 2017 win at the Western States on the back of a mainly track running background. A job working as a river raft guide and outdoor specialist led to her love of trails. Three Ultra wins in 2018 and two Ultra wins in 2019 confirm her rapid rise to the top echelon of the sport.
• Naomi Brand, SAF: Still looking for that big breakthrough performance at a big event, but why not here in New Zealand? Conditions should be to the South African’s liking as well.
• Marieve Legrand, CAN: out of British Columbia, Legrand will enjoy the rolling trails through forests and farmland.
For full 100-Miler course information and maps, click here.

Racing gets underway on Saturday morning, with the 100-Miler field setting off from Te Puia at 4am, the 102km race from Firmin Field Kawarau at 7:00am, the 50km at 7:00am from Te Puia, and the 21km race is also hosted on Saturday, starting at 10:00am at Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake). All events head to the new finish line area on the Lakefront Reserve.

The event will host a record 3,000 plus athletes across all events, an increase of over 50% on 2019 as the event attracts trail runners from throughout New Zealand and around the world, with an astonishing 59 countries represented this weekend.

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